"Better dead than co-ed"

FratGuyThat’s what we used to say back at my “Seven Sisters” college in the 1980s!  Every twenty years or so, it seems like even the most elite and well-established women’s colleges have a conversation about going co-ed.  Let’s face it–coeducational or historically all-male colleges have much bigger endowments.  My sense is that male alumns support their colleges much more generously, because they can.  (That is, they can give more because of the wage gap that persists between men and women, plus the fact that few male college graduates drop out of the workforce even temporarily because they married and/or had children.)  So, I understand the appeal of admitting male students.  (I also understand the value to the endowment of invoking the spectre of co-education for women’s college alumnae.  That sure opens up a few moth-eaten old wallets and revs up the donorcycles, eh?) 

Well, there’s reason for us old broads to fear co-education at our alma maters, because a women’s college may be “better dead than co-ed.”  Susan O’Doherty over at Mama Ph.D. tells the fascinating tale of what happened when her women’s college went co-ed while she was an undergraduate.  (This was a follow-up to a post she wrote last week about the idea of applying lower admissions standards to men who apply to competitive colleges, because of the fact that a number of selective colleges have a noticeably skewed sex ratio in favor of women.) 

By the time I graduated, there were about thirty men among a student body of 2500. Some of these guys were stellar — bright, committed, enlightened, and fun to be around. Most were not. A number were unprepared for the academic and social challenges of college; a few bragged that they had transferred because “with all these chicks around it should be a piece of cake to get laid.” It was clear to us that there was a double admissions standard. We joked that the entrance exam for men consisted of the ability to sign one’s name, but we didn’t find it funny, really.

There was one men’s dormitory. It was a beautiful old house — one of several on campus; most were reserved for honors students or those with special interests. I lived in one that was dedicated to French-speaking students. It was a privilege to live there, among well cared for antique furnishings, and we were constantly reminded that the privilege could be revoked for bad grades or bad behavior. The men, however, lived under no such strictures. After two years the furniture in their parlor had to be completely replaced, with sturdy vinyl-covered couches and chairs and utilitarian lamps, because the antiques had been wrecked, some in drunken parties and others through everyday abuse such as cigarette burns and carved initials. When they partied we could hear them clear across campus. And it was sometimes hard to maintain an atmosphere of respect in the classroom with some guy blathering on about a topic he clearly knew next to nothing about.

Again, this wasn’t everyone. Idiocy wasn’t a requirement for admission if you were a male — it just wasn’t a dealbreaker. The “good” men were embarrassed by the others, and worked to dissociate from them. But the others dominated.

And the question arose, again and again, Why are they doing this to us? When our “brother” college agreed, grudgingly from what we understood, to begin admitting women, they didn’t lower their admission standards. The women there kept up with their classes at least as well as the men did, despite stories of harassment and shunning. But the quality of our classroom discussions was degraded, and our college’s academic reputation was somewhat tarnished.

Unfortunately, the commenters over at Mama Ph.D. refuse to engage O’Doherty’s points.  The first one accuses Susan of being “insulting,” “sexist,” and “prejudiced.”  (Right–because she lied about her own observations?  I thought it was pretty clear that she wasn’t generalizing about all college men, but was writing about a small group of men at one small college in particular.)  The second commenter uses this blog post to ask, “How can we help boys?”  (Hint:  by expecting them to act like human beings and not like animals?  That would seem to be a good place to start!)  The third one makes the reasonable point that the anxiety of a skewed sex ratio in favor of women is all about “male privilege.”  Then the fourth one jumps in to contract #3, saying that it’s far too, too complex to chalk up to male privilege, and asks rhetorically, “rather than pitting women and men against one another wouldn’t it serve us all to have a more symbiotic relationship?”  Riiiiiight–because it’s feminism that sets women against men, male privilege doesn’t set men against women at all!  (This is why I monitor my comments closely, friends!)

O’Doherty asks at the end, “Why?”  In other words, why is it that men are perceived as so important to college life that they’re not only tolerated but lured with lower admissions standards and welcomed with open arms even though overall they’re more destructive, violent, and predatory than women and at the same time far less academically successful?  And isn’t it cute that a blog post about this can be turned into an occasion to scream “Oh, my lord, what about teh menz?”

For how many centuries was it not considered a problem that women were systematically excluded from higher education?  And now that we’ve had a few years in which women are the majority of college students, students who have earned admission to college in a meritocratic system that rewards their previous academic performance (rather than through an arbitrarily exclusive system, like the ones that predominated in the past that said “no girls/Jews/Catholics/blacks/Asians allowed?”), now it’s a problem that the meritocracy selects for women who actually read books and followed directions in high school instead of men who smoked pot and played video games?


What’s next?  Lemme guess:  the argument that professors are feminizing the college experience by expecting students to live up to their high academic standards?  That it’s so totally anti-male to expect college men to do homework and pass classes, and stuff, in order to earn their degrees?  (Here’s my question:  what the hell have parents of boys been doing for the last thirty years?)

0 thoughts on “"Better dead than co-ed"

  1. I actually think a lot of K-8 education really underserves boys. It’s not that boys are being somehow victimized; I’ve just noticed anecdotally that boys are not at the same level of motor and other skills at the same time as girls and yet they are treated the same in schools. So I do think there’s a legitimate problem here.

    BUT what I think starts to happen is that instead of trying to figure out how boys can learn best (and whether that might not involve some single-sex education, which has an additional benefit for girls), I think boys are indeed allowed a pass. Academic mediocrity is just what boys do, rather than something that can be fixed. (And all too frequently a pill is the solution to the problem.) At some point, male privilege kicks in (probably right around the time boys finally get taller than the girls) and then the academic mediocrity is excused. (Of course I’m overgeneralizing.)

    And as for what parents of boys have been doing? Not raising them with any sensitivity to the issues of feminism. I’m not going to get back on my soap box about housewifery but I think it’s very difficult to have sons who recognize the value of women, their time, and their labor when mom’s been doing their laundry for the last 25 years.


  2. Historiann – there is one small typo (an errant ‘d’) in this sentence:

    Riiiiiight–because it’s feminism that sets women against men, male privileged doesn’t set men against women at all!

    thefrogprincess – I agree with you about the problem of K-8 education possibly under-serving boys. Most broadly I observed that all of the grade schools I attended (a mix of public and private) taught to the lowest common denominator.

    I was aware at the time when I switched to a Catholic school that it challenged me better. The kids seemed smarter and so that lowest denominator seemed higher. I did some mid-year school switching toward the 8th grade between the two systems and by that point I was really tuned in to the educational process and differences between them. Because I’d been generally underserved by all my schools it meant that I usually finished the assigned classwork quickly and then had ample time to observe a little of how my fellow students struggled with theirs).

    Given the developmental differences you mention, I think that it is highly likely both girls and boys are being variously underserved and only some of the problem is gender. It is still a big enough factor that I think separating children by sex is a good idea generally and would go a long way to fixing some of the problem.

    I do wonder why those Catholic schools I attended seemed to have smarter kids. The classes were more engaging and challenging and I’m sure that just by expecting more out of the students they performed better. I suspect the biggest factor is that because parents were paying for the education they valued it more than something they’d get for free, and impressed this somehow on their kids. The religious aspects probably reinforced it too since respecting one’s parents is an important part of the catechism. OTOH, I have to wonder if the parents with slower kids simply opted for public school because they didn’t think their kids would be able to handle it or benefit from it.

    The best school I ever attended was a Montessori. I think really fixing what’s really wrong with K-8 education will involve a lot of the principles of it.


  3. Well in the UK, despite there now being more girls in Higher Ed than boys (just, by a tiny amount, and there are more women in the population), men still come out with more first class degrees than women. So clearly, they just need to get their ass in gear as it isn’t as if system works against them academically.


  4. Thanks for the catch on the typo, Oroboros.

    I don’t think there’s a real panic with K-8 education for boys in particular, either. That’s the period in their lives when parents are most involved (or could be, or should be) in children’s education. My sense is that K-12 ed is seriously stressed in most school districts. This underfunding affects all children, not just boys. I just think parents of girls hold them to higher standards of behavior–none of the “boys will be boys” excuses for them, but this means that they’ve been more aggressively socialized to sit still, shut up, and listen to the teacher better than their male peers. It serves them better in school to have been more thoroughly disciplined at a younger age. Children who are trained to respect adults and listen to them–especially to listen to and respect adult women–will do better in school, given the sex imbalance among teachers in most elementary schools.

    Mind you, there are *plenty* of high achieving boys out there, all of whom were sat on by their parents when they got too wild, were read to by their parents from infancy, etc. And, they’re no less male for having been brought up right.


  5. I suppose this strikes a nerve, as I just found out (via Ratemyprofessor) that I’m a feminist who “doesn’t believe that radical feminists exist” — and, that my one day discussion of feminism in philosophy constitutes a waste of time… I suspect one male student made the comment, and clearly he didn’t actually hear the discussion… So, even in 2009, a one day discussion of feminim is too much for some boys (used intentionally) to handle. Right now I’d love to teach at an all women’s college…


  6. Philosopher P., I feel your pain. I, too, get accused by indignant students of teaching a “women’s history class” when I devote perhaps 2 weeks out of fifteen to lecturing in part about women and/or assigning primary sources written by women. I’ve wondered just how little women’s content it must take to provoke that kind of response.

    At a women’s college, you’d get more students who were engaged in the material you teach, but they’d be just as critical of you in other ways. Women students, even those who identify as feminist women, still rate women professors much more critically and harshly than they do their male professors.

    Don’t look at RMP ever again. It’s just a bunch of axe-grinders on the non peer-reviewed internets!


  7. My twelve-year old daughter (along with another girl) helped to break up a fight between two boys on her school bus yesterday. Not the driver, not a teacher, but a couple of girls. This happens a lot–the boys in our public middle school are expected to be physical and are generally not punished if they have no weapons or don’t inflict serious wounds. She also told me another boy likes to “stroke” her on the bus. “It’s sexual harassment!” she said. My other daughter (10) pointed out this boy likes to touch everyone and telling on him would elicit no response. Both girls are constantly negotiating how to respond to these boys. I can’t help but feel anger and frustration compounded by struggling with undergraduate men who show little respect for my authority. There are some wonderful boys (and male undergraduates) out there. But I’m with Historiann on how the “crisis” of boys obscures the success of girls under a more meritocratic system.


  8. Widgeon–your story is just awful! I remember some of the same things happening to me in Jr. High school–when the girls’ breasts were developing, there were some boys who thought it was funny to run over and grab our boobs. There were no consequences for this–now or then, apparently.

    I would be tempted to sue the school for creating a hostile educational environment for girls. And yet, while they’re busting up fights and fending off the gropers, my bet is that your daughters are kicking those boys’ a$$es academically. This is not an argument that the status quo works, but rather an illustration of the injustice girls face at school when aggression and violence goes unchecked.


  9. Just to be clear, what I’m saying doesn’t negate what everybody else is saying. I happen to think US public schools are woefully flawed institutions and a true embarrassment to our country. But I still think boys start at a lower level, which isn’t their fault. I worked at a camp for several years and noticed a marked difference between what 7-8 year old girls could do (writing, motor skills etc.) and what boys the same age could do. This difference had nothing to do with eagerness or respect; in fact, there were instances where the most sullen, uninterested girls still had better skills than the most eager of the boys. And while a lot of this has to do with what parents do or don’t do, I’m very worried about a school system in which students succeed only because of what their parents bring to the table rather than because of the pedagogy brought to bear. Too few parents do well by their children, regardless of gender.

    That being said, I’m all about high standards as well but I don’t believe the public school system is going to be aiming high any time soon.

    And as for fighting, for what it’s worth, I went to a middle school where it was the girls who were the most violent and where altercations between them frequently drew copious amounts of blood and, on one occasion, involved a stranglehold so tight the football coaches almost couldn’t release the girl’s grip in time. The point I’m making is that people’s home training is so variable that the school system has to do more than benefit those whose parents have done a good job, regardless of gender.


  10. I taught on a general survey history since 1914 course, where we devoted one lecture to feminism (as a civil right’s movement in the 60s) in the last week of term. We also taught on the African-American civil rights movement that same week. We handed out the student survey sheets the week before the last week of term and I had comments saying the course was great except for the feminism stuff which was a waste of time. They hadn’t even be taught the ‘feminism stuff’ yet!


  11. Twenty years ago, when I was teaching at a formerly all woman’s SLAC a sociologist always told her classes that the only group at the college that received affirmative action was white men, mostly athletes.

    But I think the combination of the developmental stuff (it’s pretty clear that there are differences between boys and girls) and the ways in which boys are often given a pass for bad behavior has been toxic. It’s telling that the charter schools that have been most successful with “at risk” children have long school days (keep kids away from homes where the TV is never off and they have to do homework in front of it); and an obsessive focus on good behavior.

    I think some of the behavioral stuff can be laid at the feet of my generation, which thought manners were unnecessary, and we should just express our feelings. Even at the time I realized that I didn’t always WANT to know your feelings!

    Oh, and on the teaching stuff: a colleague is teaching women’s and gender history in our historiography course right now, and she asked how many students had had any exposure to it. One of my former students (male) commented that in my class it was just integrated in, not a special topic.


  12. I am not disagreeing with anyone, but as the mother of a 6-year-old boy, I have to say that if boys are expected to sit still, listen and be respectful, they will be. I also think it is more useful to think of behavior as a spectrum. It is easy for my son to sit still and listen in part because that is his temperament. I have seen little girls behave like jerks. I think it less about gender per se and more about where they fall on that spectrum.


  13. As a Dad of three wonderful and smart girls and one wonderful and smart son I have a few observations about some of these comments which seem rather one sided and extreme. For every guy I knew getting high I could name an equal amount of girls out getting high and goofing around too boys and girls don’t always do it the same way. Further, there are also plenty of girls who skirt by in school on looks, flirting or playing dumb just as there are guys doing the same thing or playing the jock card. Adult life is no different, women who get ahead on looks or manipulation are often praised guys who do it are called leaders sometimes and worse at others both are disrespected but no one is allowed to point it out to directly if it was a women.

    Let been fair and honest in our assessments. Our media in all forms has spend the last 20 years rightfully building up women’s and girls empowerment and value but like anything in the public venue often could only do it by tearing down males. We have raised a generation of slacker boys (for the most part) because society decided to do so. We are now reaping the results. Boys who may seem to show a lack of motor skills as so many protest here appears more like self justification to sustain a shaky argument while trying to add value to your own vanity and not legitimate claim to female superiority. It’s rather easy to look at the opposite sex and see they’re short comings it’s encouraged in all parts of society to do so to men while forbidden to do so for women. Go back just a little in history and virtually every argument I see here and elsewhere was once projected onto girls by men trying to prop up their equally weak arguments for superiority.

    The real truth lies somewhere in between, we have lower expectations for boys, taught them via many forms of communication that they are less valued, suppose to be rude, selfish, boorish, and frankly stupid and then turn and point with scorn when they do exactly as they were taught, mostly by mothers, female teachers, and the media. Moreover, that all adult figures fall into a consistent form of males making bad choices while women bail them out or come in with the wise answer to every 30 minute sitcom problem. Every commercial has a smart women and a stupid man, every drama a group of articulate wise, and strong core of females, female leaders which are either bad ass or strong yet bitchy to play to female vanity and occasionally fair handed which is often boring. Contrast it to the lame, impulsive, vain, or pumped up bubble headed males high on their childish behavior just waiting for the female lead to tame them, ego driven conservative white guy with all the wrong answers, or fat balding nerds and emotional wastelands, rarely is a male roll found that provides and example for boys to emulate anymore.

    Again we are reaping the results, our society trying to create equality did so not by building our daughters up equally but instead by tearing down our boys while telling our girls they can be anything, do anything and are superior in every way. A swing of the pendulum is in order but someone needs to stop it in the middle and leave it there. We need to stop criticizing and tearing down the opposite sex and instead build both up no longer at the expense of the other, no more social revenge.

    Yes I’m sure the grammar police will be all over me and shoot down my points for a lack of critical essay styling but then I’m a middle aged white guy too middle class to afford college while I raised my 5 younger brothers and sisters, too old to stop working by the time they were grown and my own kids came along, and not poor enough for financial aid. I’m from that other world of men who went to work so my sisters and daughters could go to college in my place not having the many choices afforded girls in our progressive society at the moment, never a slacker I’ve worked to support others since I was 14.


  14. Sort of a combined response to Oroboros, who plugged Montessori education, and Nikki, who said “if boys are expected to sit still, listen and be respectful, they will be”…

    A major problem in mainstream education is that sitting still is conflated with listening, and listening on command is conflated with respect. The Montessori method gives children a lot of freedom to choose activities within a carefully designed environment. Active kids (typically but not always boys) can wiggle and work on the floor and move from activity to activity. Still-er kids (typically but not always girls) can stay put. The rooms I’ve observed have always been quiet, because the teacher isn’t trying to get all the kids to do the same thing at once. The mandatory lessons in “grace and courtesy” don’t hurt, either.

    I definitely agree that sitting still and listening on command are skills that all children need to acquire on their way to adulthood, and that college students should all be capable of acting like adults. But different kids get there on different timetables. Letting them follow those timetables, in my experience, leads to much better end results.


  15. michaelm:

    “We have raised a generation of slacker boys (for the most part) because society decided to do so.”

    I have to push back on this.

    The main reason we have raised a generation of slacker boys is because adult men, faced with the prospect of needing to interact with women as equals, instead embraced the slacker fratboy stereotype themselves. In effect, when denied superiority, they chose inferiority over the perceived shame of equality.

    Yes, the media has played a large role in this. But it has been a largely male-run and male-dominated media. We did this to ourselves, and it’s a crying shame.

    (There’s a broader point about consumer culture having a vested interest in keeping *both* men and women insecure, so that they’ll buy stuff, but that’s drifting further off topic…)


  16. I must have blinked when we were “tearing down boys”–or is the implication that saying boys do not automatically get all the leadership roles and government subsidies for education they used to get at the expense of girls somehow “tearing them down”?


  17. The description Mark K. gives of Montessori (which I’ve heard of but am not particularly familiar with) is more the kind of thing that I’m talking about, where differences in learning/skills are acknowledged and accepted without becoming excuses for mediocrity.


  18. I don’t want this thread to be all about the menz, people! I thought I made my position clear: I reject essentialism about either girls or boys, and think that little creeps are made, not born that way or driven by their chromosomes. Girls aren’t naturally smarter or better behaved than boys–but somehow, they’ve learned those lessons better in the last twenty or thirty years, and have finally (at least when it comes to educational attainment, if not in narrowing the wage gap) started to be rewarded for it. This is good, in my view: those who perform better should be rewarded.

    I don’t see how anyone could see that as “one-sided” or “tearing down” anyone, except maybe some bad parents. Mark K. is right on here: “The main reason we have raised a generation of slacker boys is because adult men, faced with the prospect of needing to interact with women as equals, instead embraced the slacker fratboy stereotype themselves. In effect, when denied superiority, they chose inferiority over the perceived shame of equality.”

    I want to address something thefrogprincess said about the unfairness that “[t]oo few parents do well by their children, regardless of gender.” I think this is true, and it’s totally unfair. Unfortunately, there is little if any public will to fund schools to the degree they’d need to help level the playing field. By the time a child is 5 or 6, let alone 7 or 8 and in the camp you worked in, a lot of time has passed in a child’s life and there are real differences between children being raised by in-touch parents who read and can afford to enrich their children’s lives, and by out-to-lunch parents. I don’t believe it’s due to innate gender differences, though. My bet is that if we reviewed the educational literature from the first half of the twentieth century, we’d see the “common wisdom” that most boys are naturally more coordinated and have better fine motor skills than most girls. My best guess is that the boys you were working with just weren’t pushed the way their sisters were, and we’re now seeing the results in college.


  19. As a mother to a 18 month old boy, I’ve begun to wonder if the reason little girls seem to sit still and calmly with more ease has something to do with the impossible getup their mothers dress them in.


  20. I reject essentialism about either girls or boys, and think that little creeps are made, not born that way or driven by their chromosomes.

    Well said. I also laugh at the nature vs nurture debate sometimes, since it is obvious that most of us are equally influenced by both. Is someone an alcoholic because it was in their genes or because they are emulating their parent’s behaviors? The genes created that family behavior too so it is really hard to sort it out. I’m fascinated by epigenetics especially as it seems to be at least partially an exploration of that interaction between biology and culture.

    I never did write on that story I mentioned last week regarding the differences in how boys and girls compete. Obviously there’s a pretty big generality being made that doesn’t apply in all cases, but in some way I still find it useful for understanding much behavior. Still that’s all culturally driven and I can’t generalize this as being true in other cultures.

    There’s a math professor in New Zealand who retired last week that I’ve come to admire. He’s trying to understand consciousness itself and the nature of the mystery sexuality as paradigm for existence. It’s some fairly far-out stuff as you’ll see. I’m linking his farewell talk as opposed to his book Sexual Paradox (which is linked there and online for free), mainly because he talks a bit about academic freedom and you might find it interesting.


  21. Historiann, we disagree, which is fine. I happen to think that there are some real differences that impact part of the phenomena you’re talking about, in combination with the other points you and others have raised. I don’t think the issue is whether one group is smarter than the other but I do wonder whether the lessons you say girls have learned better over the years are ones we should prize. It’s a slippery slope from listening better to not thinking critically. The link you posted early about the boy who refused to say the pledge of allegiance: note how he was being “disruptive” by refusing to listen to authority. The “sit still and do as you’re told” lessons don’t necessarily encourage that kind of thinking.

    And as for the camp, it was for underprivileged children and many (most?) children weren’t getting a lot from their parents, which is why I used that particular anecdote.


  22. God knows I’d like to see kids in this country better educated, but I’m not sure that’s all that’s at issue here.

    By way of comparison, I’d note that some (not all) of the complaints made about letting men into women’s colleges are uncomfortably similar to some anti-affirmative action arguments: “hey, we have a difficult competitive admissions process; why should we lower our standards to bring in a different group of students?”

    But it strikes me that one huge difference is that, in the context of affirmative action, you just don’t hear (at least if you stay out of the very nastiest and least-informed discussions) stories like the one you linked to, about serious academic atmospheres being ruined. On the contrary, at the privileged and recently-slightly-diversified institutions I have experience with, the stereotype is just the opposite: poor and minority students are generally seen as serious, hardworking, committed, etc. Why? Well, probably in part because they are aware (not because they’ve been educated in some particular way, just because it’s pretty obvious) that, society being structured as it is, they won’t be able to get away with as much slacking off in life as their relatively privileged peers. So they don’t slack off as much.

    With men as opposed to women, it’s pretty much the opposite; they assume they’ll be allowed to get away with more because they will, in fact, be allowed to get away with more, throughout their lives (barring a significant change for the better in social structures).

    So really what I’m saying is, it’s going to be hard to avoid giving boys and men a feeling of being privileged as long as they are, in fact, privileged. I mean, if kindergartens have the same expectations for all kids regardless of gender, that’s great, but problems will still arise as soon as kids realize that most of life will be considerably less fair than kindergarten.

    As I’m looking this over, I’m worried I haven’t expressed myself well, so just to be clear: I am NOT trying to argue against affirmative action, or for co-edizing women’s schools, or for a general hopelessness about changing society. I just want to avoid the perspective that looks at some particular point (early education, parenting, etc.), and says “there’s the problem! Fix that and everything else will be fine!” I think it’s all interconnected, and has to all be worked on at once, if that makes any sense.


  23. Sulpicius–agreed. It’s interesting that as O’Doherty notes, there are no comparable stories like hers about when men’s colleges became co-ed. Women are widely recognized as classing those places up (and helping to *raise* the bar there, even.) But, a lot of individual children’s die are cast in toddlerhood and elementary school. I think if more little boys were taught to respect and obey their parents and teachers, instead of to define themselves in opposition to their female authority figures, they’d be better off in the long run. But of course, it would be a lot easier to teach little boys to respect women if the culture at large respected women. Every day the message to respect women is undermined in a dozen little ways, or more, if children have much exposure to TV.

    thefrogprincess makes a good point–the little boy in the linked story above wasn’t simply listening and obeying. But as we all know, you have to learn to walk before you can run. He had the benefit of good parental support and a lot of discipline and intellectual development before he could think critically about the Pledge of Allegiance and mount his silent protest. I’m certainly not making an argument here against critical thinking–I’m just saying that discipline and respect are critical building blocks for getting along in mass educational environments. That kid earned his stripes and had a coherent argument, he wasn’t just being oppositional for the sake of disrespecting a teacher or showing off for classmates.


  24. Re texts on men’s colleges becoming co-ed, I just found this on amazon.com:
    Going coed: women’s experiences in formerly men’s colleges and universities
    By Leslie Miller-Bernal, Susan L. Poulson
    I think late nineteenth century women who went to grad school at formerly all-male grad schools like Cornell and Michigan were at best ignored and generally insulted by male grad students. The women forged strong bonds with each other. (See, e.g., Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz’s biography of M. Carey Thomas.)


  25. Ignatz–thanks for the title. So it looks like the women get insulted and trashed whether they integrate a formerly all-male college, or whether they’re at formerly all-female colleges that are integrating.


    And unsurprising.

    I always have very mixed feelings when I hear that an all-male high school (like a lot of the Catholic high schools in New England that were associated with priests who sexually assaulted or molested children from the Archdiocese of Boston) goes co-ed. On the one hand, it can be a good thing, because a lot of all-male high schools are hotbeds of homophobia and gender bullying. On the other hand–how is that going to help the girls who go there? (Women as “civilizing influence”–paging the 19th Century!)

    I see single-sex education for girls and women as an unqualified good, but for boys and men, not so much. (OTOH again–if all girls go to single-sex schools…what choice do the boys and their parents have?)


  26. I went to an all-male Catholic high school. There was definitely a fair amount of homophobia. I took Latin, but heard that the German teacher was fond of telling football players in his class how much latent homosexuality there was in their sport (emphasis on phrases like ‘going deep’ and ‘tight ends’). So I always considered him to be a bit subversive. My Latin teacher was a pervert in his own right and made regular reference to the subtext regarding the “sheathing of swords” in the classical literature we were reading. I think all the male teachers (clergy included) felt they had to make a lot of jokes about sex just to keep the boys interested (and I think they were probably not completely off-base in that general belief).

    Our Religious Studies teacher was fired some time after I graduated for an apparently inappropriate relationship with a former student (over 18). I’m sure the fact that he was apparently gay was the real reason he was let go.

    Our Sex Ed teacher was a lay woman who’d probably been practicing the rhythm method faithfully in her marriage judging by the size of her family. By that point the teachings on contraception had been considerably relaxed and so we had a reasonably complete education despite the Catholic bias toward abstinence. The most remarkable thing she taught us was that our brains were our primary sex organs. To this day I still get a little mileage out of the joke that being Catholic, we weren’t supposed to use our brains until we were married….


  27. I’ve never had any personal experience with a single-sex educational environment, H., though two of my good friends went to your alma mater 🙂 At any rate, I did go to (inner-city, income-bracket-scaled tuition) Montessori pre-school (ages 3 and 4) and at least from my experience at that age, I can say it was a good thing, because it did speak to the individual needs (on an emotional and personality and energy level) of all students.

    After leaving Montessori for Catholic school in K-8, I think what mattered most was the small class size. (My eighth grade class had but 18 students – and yes, our school merged with two other schools the year after I graduated.) I think that male and female students both were held to the same (high) standard, but I also think that fewer students to a class meant that behavior problems did not get out of control (teachers were really able to deal directly with behavior issues), and that there were deeper relationships between students, which meant that peer pressure worked as a more effective deterrent to bullying and to screwed up behavior problems in the classroom. I never felt that I was subordinated to male students in that environment, nor did I feel like I had to handle problems that teachers should be handling. Let’s note that I went to an inner-city Catholic school, so the home/family environments of many of my classmates’ were not supportive at all, nor necessarily conducive to high performance in a group educational environment.

    If I’d continued on in Catholic school my preference was to go to an all-girls’ high school, but my parents got divorced and that changed the game for me. I ended up in a good public high school, and I was in almost all honors/AP classes, and that meant that I didn’t have more than 25 students in any of my classes. Again, small class size made a huge difference, as did the fact that I was in a school district in which the teachers were very invested in our educations, and because I was tracked into honors classes, the students tended to be invested in doing well.

    (My public high school was not in a uniformly upper-class place. Think Pretty in Pink. There were students with a lot of money, students in the middle, and students who were definitely poor. It was a very well funded school district, but that was because of school levies, not just because of property taxes.)

    So here’s the thing, and only from my experience. You know what I really think levels out gender in education? Smaller class sizes. Regardless of income level, regardless of family background, regardless of whatever. I think standards plus a small enough class to hold students to them, that’s the ticket. Maybe I’m naive, or maybe my experience is an anomaly, but that’s what I really think makes the biggest difference.

    As for teaching, Susan wrote up-thread: “One of my former students (male) commented that in my class it was just integrated in, not a special topic.”

    I really believe that student evaluations are more negative when one has the “feminism” week or the “women’s literature” week or the “women in history” week. I think that students don’t seize on the “woman” stuff as much, regardless of background or political persuasion or prejudice, if you just make women part of the whole course. I really believe that if you construct woman as “other” than students respond to woman (or black, or latina, or gay, or whatever) as other, and thus WRONG. If it’s integrated into the mix AS literature, or history, or politics, or whatever, without making the Other into a token, I think that the response is, “oh, that’s how literature/history/whatever discipline works.” This is not to say that I’ve not gotten crap evals from bigoted students, but rather to say that I’ve gotten fewer of those in courses where I made the Other into part of the subject, if that make sense, as opposed to giving woman/gays/people of color their own special week.


  28. Historiann asks, “What have the parents of boys been doing for the last thirty years?” One factor that the parents have been unconsciously (mal)adjusting for is the entirely different labor market for uneducated men, which has had ripple effects throughout the educational establishment. Thirty (well, maybe forty) years ago teenage boys who weren’t college bound could anticipate working at the local factory or serving an apprenticeship with their dad’s union. They wouldn’t have to go to junior college to get a living-wage job. In 2009 the factory’s gone or the work de-skilled and gone over to primarily immigrant labor. Is it surprising that the parents of these kids are now bugging their kids’ high school teacher to give Johnny a B+ for C work? The parents know the game has changed, that the education is important, but are unable to model the proper behavior for success in an environment where a B.A. is now an almost entry-level certificate.

    I agree with thefrogprincess that the educational system is not serving boys well. This summer I spoke with a (female) math professor about her twentysomething slacker son. Her insight into his lack of drive was that he grew up in an era of excessive positive reinforcement, where each forward step was rewarded, no matter how small. I find myself doing the same with my own six year old — it’s hard to escape the subliminal messages we receive about how to raise our kids. We’re not supposed to be distant drill sergeants, we’re supposed to be caring nurturers. But this is likely not always in the interest of the long-term development of our sons. When adult men set up learning environments primarily for other men — whether it be boys’ PE, the military, or a construction site, the constructive feedback is overwhelmingly negative, which makes me wonder if it has something to do with the way we’re wired.


  29. Geoff I’ve been pondering a lot about how we are wired and I’d say that our daughters are just as important on the matter you’re raising too (well, I have no kids so I’m actually impartial and unqualified).

    My personal take on it is that men are slightly biased toward their perceptions of the objective reality while women are slightly biased toward the subjective. There are always exceptions of course, and the anima/animus concept means we’re always experiencing both anyway, it’s just a question of which one we pay more attention to (and that can vary as I’ve observed in myself).

    So in this case, the mother might tend to normally judge and reward every step forward as compared to the previous one, whereas the natural paternal instinct may be to only reward every step as measured by progress toward the next one. Both are valid approaches in the balance and both are needed for the child to develop a healthy differentiation between his or her own subjective experience of objective reality.

    I can also see this leading to an argument against same-sex parents as being unable to provide the right amount of subjective/objective balance. I’m also pretty sure with a bit of consciousness any couple (or single parent even) could find and apply the basic concepts that would be required for balancing the child’s needs for praise and reinforcement with challenge and discipline. In fact, it seems to me that the problem of single parents requires finding a solution to that regardless.

    I realize I’m pandering to stereotypes a bit of the male and female, but they exist because of a kind of fundamental truth that seems inescapable.


  30. Geoff: an era of excessive positive reinforcement

    This is an important theme, imho, and one connected to the sense of entitlement traditional-age undergraduates of all sexes and genders seem to bring with them into the classroom these days.

    My children attend a Montessori school. There are no “incentives” or “rewards” for performance. Pride in accomplishment comes from within and the recognition that mastering one type of work means you can build from it to another. It is simply expected that children will respect the classroom and their peers and by and large, they do. Children follow the behaviors modeled by the adults and older children around them. We parents had a nice reading last year about refraining from squawking out “good job” every time our kid manages to wipe hir own nose.

    The mixed-age classroom is important to the Montessori model. Younger children have older children as role models and older children share some responsibility to help younger children succeed. I would argue that the same holds in the university classroom. I teach at an urban institution, where non-traditional (older, returning) students are common. Older students really elevate what goes on in the classroom. They know why they are there and what they want out of their education. They ask and answer questions and in so doing open the space up for everybody in the class. In a nutshell, they model engaged student behavior.


  31. I’m kind of confused about why women’s colleges that are going coed would feel the need to lower standards for male applicants. Is there a feeling that once an academic institution goes coed, they have to aggressively recruit people from the other gender even if that means using lower standards?

    As for parents raising (or not raising) boys who are respectful and well-behaved, I think that quite a few families still do a pretty good job – but not enough overall. A fairly small percentage of actively rude and disrespectful men can ruin an educational environment, and also leads to the situation where ironically men feel that they have to be less well-behaved and less respectful in order to “fit in” or be socially accepted. Using a strictly personal example, my two brothers and myself were raised in a family that was numerically dominated by men and fairly conservative as far as gender roles go, but we were also taught that casual rudeness and disrespect toward women (and other people in general) were wrong and unacceptable. A lot of men, I think, are raised this way, but still not enough.

    (Back in my conservative days, I would have interpreted the post title as positive proof that feminists were highly prejudiced against men without paying any attention to the nuances of why somebody would believe that. I suspect that this kind of interpretation is at the root of a lot of misunderstanding and hostility toward feminism by people who are unsympathetic towards it.)


  32. I agree that the culture of trophies-for-everyone is perhaps part of this, but unless it’s just trophies-for-boys-whatever-they-do, it doesn’t explain the gendered achievement gap.

    Oroboros, I disagree with your characterization of parenting styles. I know lots of mothers who are drill sergeants, and fathers who are creampuffs. (Geoff, I think you know the family that I’m thinking about!) I really think there’s probably the same range of parenting styles among parents of both sexes, and that gender doesn’t tell us that much about which parent will be more or less nurturing.

    Paul, I agree with you that it doesn’t make sense that colleges would drop their admissions standards when their potential applicant pool doubles. But, that’s the logic of male supremacy for you. I guess I find it interesting that the schools that have maintained their high standards and are regularly ranked among the most competitive colleges in the U.S. are NOT the women’s colleges that have gone co-ed (Smith, Wellesley, Mt. Holyoke, and Bryn Mawr). It’s the Mills Colleges and the Wheatons that went co-ed. I don’t have the information, but it would be interesting to look at Mills now, 20 years or so after coeducation.


  33. Well I really meant it as a kind of “default position” which is why I clarified about playing with stereotypes. I wanted to come back later and add that subverting the dominant paradigm means consciously mixing it up.

    Both of my parents gave me discipline and praise growing up. But as I look at the whole of my childhood, there was probably a slight bias toward discipline from my father and praise from my mother.


  34. Pingback: On Women’s Colleges « Shitty First Drafts

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